Rise And Shine

We designed and installed the landscape here in 2015, part of which included a large blue stone landing linking the driveway to the front door. I always appreciate the opportunity to design the hard surfaces at the front door. Too often the walk and porch are too narrow, and any steps too shallow. The front door certainly asks to be a focal point of a home.  That generously paved space made it possible to place a quartet of good sized steel planter boxes from Branch in concert with the door. The pots get planted in the spring, and are updated for all of the seasons to come. The winter is perhaps the most dramatic of all, as it should be.  The Michigan winter is very long. The days are short and gray, and the nights come early and are black dark. Rob’s lighted steel tree forms on rod steel legs were installed directly into the pots – a request from my intrepid clients. A pair of seven footers in the back pair, and a pair of five footers in the front do an astonishingly good job of introducing light into the winter airspace. The resulting glow is warm and atmospheric. The lighting in the containers accomplishes something that traditional landscape lighting rarely does. It creates an opportunity for theater in the landscape.

Is theater a good quality in a landscape? Of course. Divine theater is created in the landscape by nature in countless unanticipated ways. That theater is what gives rise to those perfect moments in the garden. An unforgettable moment that will probably never be repeated is what gardeners garden towards. That is landscape theater at its best. Every gardener has their own version of that experience. Pictured above is a property that had major regrading and a new driveway last year. The landscape would have to wait until spring, as would the landscape lighting. As a temporary measure, we wrapped galvanized pipe with LED string lights. The pipes were threaded over steel rebar that had been sunk deep in the ground. The lighted pipes were not fancy, but the repetition of them on a wide sweeping curve was ruggedly sculptural. And they lit the driveway enough for a walk to the mailbox for the morning paper. Contemporary lighted landscape bollards from Louis Poulsen are due to be installed this month. They will light the way in a much more formal way. They are a permanent lighting solution that will be more about function than theater.

There came a time when Howard was of an age that he could not navigate the steep steps going down into the garden from the deck. Lighting those steps with landscape lighting would certainly have helped me find my way up and down. But it would have been of no use to him, or our relationship. The lighting from the container pictured above made it possible for him to see me in the garden, and for me to see him. I had no worry that he would attempt the stairs, as he could see me. This moment was certainly theater. It told a story. I have this picture, and a very good memory.

No doubt these lighted containers at the end of the driveway are handy for illuminating the car door handle in the early morning, and a welcome home at night. There is a landscape down light in a nearby tree that no doubt makes the area easier to see at night, but the pots on the wall loaded with strings of lights at the base are more cheery and inviting than instructive. Landscape lighting that features specific objects or places in the landscape dictates the scope of the interaction. Designing and placing seasonal lighting in containers is a kind of gardening. They are as much celebration of the time as they are a reaction to it. It can organize a space or frame even a dimly lit view. They are a reason to view and visit the garden, despite the dark, cold and snow.

As the winter season soldiers on, the benefit of lighted winter pots intensifies. The visual interest and comfort they afford is difficult to ignore on a late January afternoon.

Our first lighted containers were designed specifically to celebrate the holiday season in December. It is a short bridge to cross, taking the concept of holiday decorating outdoors. The above container arrangement certainly draws on that history. But as remarkably different this holiday container is from the surrounding landscape, it is the light that brings the arrangement to life. It was remarkably time consuming to attach strings of lights vertically to a collection of branches. But that light transformed the view. The formal foreground landscape in contrast to the naturally chaotic background is a visual discussion easy to pass by in the winter. The lighted pot gives pause as much as pleasure.

The lighting materials available now are light years ahead of what we worked with 15 years ago in presentation, durability and economy. Most notable is the recent advent of twig lighting of various types and sizes. In any given winter season, Rob will carry 10 or 15 different styles. The come with pointed ends that can be inserted in the soil or a form. The lights are securely affixed to the faux twigs, and the entire assembly is covered in a waxy waterproof material. Embedded in a natural twig centerpiece, the lighted effect is enchantingly simple to achieve, and satisfying to look at. The string lighting typically put in the greens are not especially effective in lighting the centerpiece materials, unless those lights are applied with a very heavy hand. On occasion we will wrap a centerpiece with string lights at the base multiple times. But there is a limit to how far that light will migrate from its source.

There is also a limit to the height of manufactured twig lighting. The lighting technology is certainly there. But shipping an object that is too large or tall to go UPS or FedEx means it has to go freight. Shipping via a freight carrier is very expensive. So certain garden staples-like topiary forms, plant climbers and twig lights are either limited to a shippable height, or come in pieces that have to be put together by the end user. We only ship our full height topiary forms once in a while, as the cost is so great. We really make them for our local clients. So in the container pictured above, Rob hand wound string lights up each branch to get the height he wanted. It was well worth the trouble. These lights can be seen from a long way away. The globe shape of cherry lights is a welcome change from the the typical pinpoint of light of most light strands.

This window box at the shop from 2019 stuffed to overflowing with the stems of the dogwood “Midwinter Fire” is handsome during the day, but true to its name at night. Most of the lighting action comes from a pair of 50 foot strands of Lumineo brand garland style string lights sprinkled on the surface. The low cut branches of magnolia obscures the wiring during the day. The lighted ring is a contrasting, precisely geometric shape whose outline is clearly visible at night. This lighted container says nothing about a holiday, but it says everything about the designed winter landscape.

That same box assembled this year features twig lighting placed in the thick of the sticks. Exterior lighting from years ago was so much about the profusion of cords and wires that the daytime look was terrible. One had to spend an inordinate amount of time concealing the works, or choose to celebrate either the day or the night.

Not much in the way of electrical trappings is apparent here. These twig lights are integral to small white stems, the color of which pairs well with fresh cut twigs of a lighter color. And in this case, faux white berry stems. The walk to my office door will be well lit and visually lively, morning and night, the entire winter.

This cut Fraser fir tree in my side yard container is secured with 4 pieces of steel rebar pounded down in to the soil, and galvanized steel guy wires. Given that LED string lighting draws so little in the way of electricity, they can be made in long lengths. Rob carries strands that are over 100 feet long each. This makes lighting a tree much more simple and efficient. This is all the light I will have in my side yard all winter, and it is all the light I need. The tree is visible from every window facing my south side landscape, and from the street as I drive up after work. I will not take it down until the soil in the pot thaws in March.

LED lighting produces just about nothing in the way of heat. This means the mountains of snow we are sure to get will glow from the inside, rather than melt. We do indeed take winter container lighting seriously. It is rise and shine worthy.


  1. jennifer taylorq says

    Oh to be a local customer of yours! As always, your work is spectacular! Happy New Year Deborah; wishing you all the very best.

  2. Susan Kaestner says

    I love wide entry ways! Here in the South, I was once told by a landscape designer that a proper and gracious sidewalk should be wide enough for a woman in a hoop skirt and her escort to walk side by side to your front door. I find your work such an inspiration and am so appreciative of your willingness to share your techniques with others. Thank you.

  3. Carolyn Marnon says

    I love the post lights along the driveway with the string lights wrapped around them. How do you manage the electrical cords so you don’t go over them with a snowblower, trip over them, etc? Are they connected together in the line along the drive or do they fan out to an electrical outlet somewhere?

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Carolyn, the cords are behind the light bars, out of the way of the snow removal. The cords are also buried a few inches below grade. They are not connected together. Multiple plugs go into the same outlet via a three way splitter. best, Deborah

  4. Laura Tonar says

    I love all of this! Happy New Year to you and crew and THANKYOU for all the sharing and inspiration

  5. Howard is adorable! Thanks for including him!

    Happy New Year to you, Howard, and your amazing employees!

  6. Frieda Hickman says

    Very inspiring. The first photo definitely needed the 7 and 5 feet metal trees to look right with the two story house. Loved all the inspiration for ideas to use next year. Thank you for all the information you pass on freely.

  7. Yolanda First says

    Your work is amazing! What I would like to know are the lights battery or how do get electric to them?

  8. Meredith M. Dorion says

    Hi Deborah,
    My sister shared the link to your blog and I’m glad she did! I purchased an oversized metal ring last year and sat it out on the lawn, a singular hoop sitting atop the blanket of snow. In my rural setting, it feels magical. But…I would love to attain the look you’ve achieved with the lighting application. Could you share what type of lighting that is and how it is attached?
    Thank you,

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Meredith, our rings are specifically manufactured to hold light strings in a neat and orderly fashion. We secure the string of lights with zip ties. all the best, Deborah

  9. Nancy Nesbitt says

    Deborah – I live in central Ohio (Z and was wondering about using my antique concrete urns in the winter. I don’t use them because I am afraid they will crack and break apart even through they are very thick.
    Have you utilized concrete planters in the winter – whether new or antique? Thanks, Nancy

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Nancy, I have used lots of concrete pots for winter arrangements. If you do your arrangement in dry floral foam, it will keep the water out of your pot. What damages pots in the winter is water that gets trapped in them. When that water freezes, it expands. best, Deborah

  10. Jennifer Margison says

    I wanted you to know that I have shared your wonderful blog with our small garden club of about 50 people on Galiano Island, a small island of 1000 full time residents between Vancouver on the mainland of BC and Vancouver Island, Canada. Due to Covid, we have had to suspend our monthly program for meetings & speakers & I have been looking for alternatives to keep our members entertained. I enjoy your posts so much and know others will too. You will have a west coast Canadian fan club!

  11. Beautiful as always. Happy to see the Fraser Fir. Only the best! If I didn’t love them so, I might let laziness take over one year at the least, but they are such perfect Christmas trees that I can never resist putting one up to decorate.

  12. Beautiful and inspiring!

  13. Christopher says

    Twig lights! Great idea. Very striking!

  14. Clarissa M Allaire says

    Very beautiful!!

  15. Happy New Year!! Beautiful!! How do you get such good photos of your lit containers? Try as I might my photos of mine are just a blur of light. You can’t really see the details of of the items in the containers. Thank you

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Dawn, I find that taking the picture at just the right time makes a difference-not too light, and not too dark. It also helps to take multiple pictures, one right after the other, so you can pick the one you like. best, Deborah

  16. Janet F. Kelly says

    Stunning as always! Your work is gorgeous and always inspiring. I love your small balsam fir tree flooded with the lights. I love that idea and am eager to replicate that soft look. I looked up the lights you recommend and they have a battery pack. Do you use it with a timer? I want to do this but would love to use a solar device some how so I dont have to go outside. Have you ever done a solar power panel source? Thanks

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Janet, I am not sure what you mean by battery pack. Our Lumineo lights are plug ins to a source of electricity. Solar lighting is not practical in my zone, as a sunny day is rare in our winters. best, Deborah

    • Hello Janet,
      Since residing in Ottawa, Canada, I do appreciate those battery pack lights you’re referring to and sympathize. I’ve also attempted relaying a solar device to power them but these don’t work due to insufficient light exposure during winter to corroborate Deborah’s reply.
      My best suggestion which I’ve successfully done is to bypass the battery pack by turning it into an AC direct plug-in plug with the addition of a Low Voltage transformer which can then be plugged into a timer device. Lots of « You Tube » vidéos on how to convert your plug-in battery pack lights into a plug-in device! Good luck!

  17. Suzanne Valentine says

    Hello Deborah and Rob ,
    Happy New Year . I truly enjoy your posts and how you share your gifts and knowledge with the lifelong gardener .
    Thank you for all your inspiring work and unbelievable creativity and talent.


    Suzanne Valentine

  18. Beautiful! Always inspiring. Do you have trouble with your LED lights working the second year? I have experienced half of the string not lighting with brands available in stores.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Jan, the Lumineo lights are pretty reliable. We find that the primary problem is a transformer going bad, or a wire going in to the function box going bad. For that reason, we reinforce the wire where it goes in to them with electrical tape. best, Deborah

  19. Sallie Sydnor says

    What a wonderful post. You are so generous to share your techniques. I would love to have your advice on applying string lights to a tree. That Frazier fir is stunning, and the lights — oh, my!

  20. Kathleen Gibson says

    So up lifting to see your winter displays! You are a wonderful designer and artist with lights!

  21. Deborah, you have surely inspired many of us over the years to consider and install our winter pots for more than just the holidays- having that light well into February has become a welcome necessity of my winter garden. Thanks for that- and thanks for the continued inspiration!

  22. Happy New Year Deborah!
    Your lighting is just gorgeous and gives such a warm, beautiful glow. We had trouble getting a nice warm color this year in LED lighting, (and I really don’t care for a cool lighting either inside or outside our home), and I wonder what color your lights are. You mention Lumineo lights, and I wonder if yours the Classic White or Warm White.

    Thank you for such beautiful and inspiring posts.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Christine, we only carry the warm white version now. The classic white is on the orangy side. best, Deborah

  23. Lindsay Maxwell says

    Thank you for this remarkable post. You have introduced me to an entirely different approach to lighting the landscape.

  24. All these lighted tree forms are just beautiful!

    In the first picture, how did you arrive at 7’ tree shape in the rear, and 5’ in the front? It all looks so proportional.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Jim, Rob made that easy-making the trees in 3′, 5′ and 7′ heights. It just seemed right to choose a smaller height for the front two trees. all the best to you, Deborah

  25. Beautiful lighting for the dark days of winter. Especially after Christmas. They are wonderful surprises for people to behold walking or driving by.

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